Over a year ago, a group of runners decided it would be a good idea to run the Ragnar Relay series from Madison, WI to Chicago IL…roughly 200 miles. I’ve had my eye on Ragnar for years now and considered it high up on my bucket list of runs to do! When the team started to form I threw my hat in the ring! So much talk and planning went into this adventure. We created our own private Facebook Group to keep in touch with one another and to share motivational pieces. Chicago Ragnar was now alive and the dream was becoming more of a reality for me!
As the year passed, there were a couple of changes to runners due to life issues and injuries. My sister Patti was part of the group from the start and my wife Karla was added with just a few weeks out. Many of the people on our team I’d never met face to face and was so excited to expand on these friendships that had formed over the year. Keep in mind that our team was formed on-line and we were from numerous different states. Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio! The logistics of getting this thing together were mind-boggling! Our Fearless Leader and team Captain Russ Beaver was the perfect person to captain this group. He’d done a Ragnar before so he had knowledge on how things should go and handled all the preparations. I’m still amazed at how he kept this thing together! As the travel time grew closer I was riding such a high…nothing could break my spirit!
Travel day! There were a couple of people coming out of Ohio so we decided to cut down on the number of cars and rode together. Amy, Stan, Karla, Patti and I took off in a rented mini van. Let me tell you…it was like Holiday the entire way there with this group! We were all so stoked to be doing this run…the van was just spilling over with excitement! Lorelei was coming out of Ohio as well and had close friends in the Michigan area on our team. They too got together and car pooled into the Chicago area. I’m told there may have been some silliness inside of that car for the ride as well. 🙂 Our team Captain was flying in from Minnesota. He was scooped by Illinois’s happiest traveler Melissa! Super runner Ken (also out of Ohio) was dropped off by his wife and kids at our designated meeting area and Kris (also from Illinois was dropped off as well. The team of 12 was to meet in Chicago at an Enterprise rental shop so that we could scoop our big white vans and head to Madison, WI. Traffic was an ass kicker in Chicago! A group of us arrived early and decided to hang out at a local snack shack. This place became our true meeting place over the next several hours as the remaining members found their way through the traffic nightmare! Once we were all assembled, we loaded up the vans and hit the trail for Madison! Hotel check in and the all important shopping trip. Once we checked in we headed for the grocery store, loaded up on runner snacks…lol! Gatorade, Peanut Butter, bagels, water, pretzels, all the fun things you’d eat while running this crazy race! We all grabbed a quick dinner after this and hit our rooms for the last bit of normal sleep for days!
Friday…Ragnar Morning!! I have to tell you at this point I felt like my head was going to explode! Emotions were running so high and I was so ready to get this running going. I was set to be the first runner to leave at 8:15 a.m. I felt honored to represent this team and wanted to make a good showing for the group. The morning before we reached the starting line was really a total blur to me. I remember telling myself to run my own race and keep calm. The music was pumping and people were screaming and cheering everywhere! The start of this race is unique because there were almost 500 teams involved! (That’s a lot of white vans and bodies) They started at about 5:30 a.m. turning teams loose and did this every 15 minutes all the way into the afternoon hours! I took my place with a good-sized group (towards the back) and just waited to be turned loose! Once they started us out…I settled right into my running groove and just enjoyed what Madison had to offer. The parks and streets were full of charm and beauty. I felt as though my head was on a swivel the entire run. I did notice that the temps were picking up quickly and was a little worried about my lack of water for this 6 mile hop. Once again I told myself to trust in my training. I’d trained prior to getting there on several runs with little water at about the same distance…just in case. I passed off the slap bracelet to my sister Patti at the first exchange and we hit the road to get in front of her for the next exchange. This was pretty much what we did the entire way! If you weren’t running, you were checking maps to see if there were spots to help your runner who was out on their route or prepping your food for your next run or driving the van to the next exchange point or dare I say it…trying to rest! Just constant motion the entire time!
Our last runner to go out on the first leg was my bride Karla. She was positioned to run the longest leg on the course at 9.9 miles. I’ll mention here and now that the weather was most unkind to us for this race. Temperatures went past the 90 degree mark and humidity was way high! We had the full sun with no clouds the entire first day. Conditions set to wreck runners for sure! Karla was prepped and loaded up on fluids. I gave her a pep talk about staying hydrated and we checked the course for water stops. She had two on her course and figured that would get her through. We had no way to support her on this leg because of the trail she was running on. No areas for vans to get to her. I was nervous as was the rest of the team. Well as we waited at the next exchange, we were all checking our watches and figuring she should be there by now. A text alert came to our captain from race command stating that “team 372 (that’s us) had a runner down…being transported by ems to the local hospital.” My heart exploded with fear and I immediately became a wreck mentally. Once we got the address to the hospital, we turned over the running to our second van and headed to the hospital to check on Karla. I called her cell phone and a nurse picked it up. She stated that Karla was unsure of her address and vital information…they were concerned and she said she was “freaking out”! I told the nurse what she’d been doing and said I had no doubts that she was severely dehydrated. Once I arrived and was let in to see Karla I asked her “do you know me”? She said yes…my next question…”do you remember Stella”? She said yes I do…lol! She was scared and cold at this point but as the fluids went back into her body, the better she felt. The total time at the E.R. was around 3 hours and it was decided that we would continue the run but take over the remaining legs for Karla. I offered to run all of her remaining legs but the captain said he’d take one and I could do the other. Karla was to stay calm and cool for the remainder of the race. She was really tough on herself afterwards and felt as though she wrecked it for everyone. The team rallied behind her and told her that she was part of our team and we would carry on for her! Amazing people on this team. Karla never gave up in spirit, her body just didn’t have the fluids to get her through such terrible conditions.
We headed to our next major exchange where the two vans would meet up and our van…#1 would start our second set of legs. This was a good time for us. We had a small window to eat regular food and actually sit in some shade for a bit. We were all being weather nerds and watching the approaching storms. Very ugly and severe thunderstorms were on the way! Once the time arrived, I geared up for my night run. Headlamp, and extra lights so that I could find my way down some streets and then a bike trail for the next 4 miles. I won’t lie…I love running in the dark and just knowing that a storm was coming made me haul ass that much more! I shot through the 4 miles in sub 8 minute miles to get out of the upcoming storm. Once I reached the next exchange point, I was told to take a “lightning card” and head for cover. We were basically in time out until the lightning passed. We had to skip past the next leg due to storms all around the area. All the teams were pushed ahead and once we finally got clear of the storms, our captain set out on the road to keep the party going. Once we went through all of our runner’s second legs, we headed for the next major exchange point which was right on the lakefront. There we had time to try to nap before the morning take off again. There was no sleep to be had inside this van…blah! My big body didn’t care for the cramped seats at all and I didn’t bring extra gear to sleep outdoors. Morning light broke and it brought me back to life! The view on the lake was awesome! I cleaned up, got my gear on and headed for the exchange point to take up my third leg of the race. I was again blessed with some of the most beautiful views that WI had to offer! Both beautiful homes and fantastic lake views…so peaceful for this tired runner.
We rifled through our runners quickly Saturday morning and I jumped into my last leg. This was original Karla’s 5.1 mile run but I picked it up so that we could keep things moving. This was the toughest leg for me. Wide open, no shade at all, on gravel, no views to keep me distracted and HOT!! My team told me they would catch me at around 3 miles and they were true to form! I picked up a Gatorade, cold wipes and an ice-cold hat! It carried me on down the trail but I still felt like my neck and back were on fire! I fellow runner and Ragnarian on the route offered to put ice cold water on my back at one of the crossings. She may have saved me there! I really needed to cool my body back down and quick. Thank you random runner…proof that runners are special people!! Once I reached the exchange I was ready to be done. I turned over the honors at that point to Super Man Ken! Van #2 took over from there and I passed on the information that it was terrible conditions so that they could aid their runners for the remainder of the race. Well Van #2 did not disappoint. They took good care of one another, aided each other on several occasions and just rocked it! Nice team work yet again! Stan the Man was our last runner to finish the race. He too had a miserable 9+ mile run in order to find the finish line. He was loaded up with all the necessary gear, he was aided several times on his run and with the last few miles to go…we all met at the finish and prayed that Stan would keep it together and find his way home.
The remaining 11 runners all found our way to the finish area. We checked our watches and waited on Stan. Once we thought he would be close, we headed towards the area where he’d be coming off the trail and heading for the final short stretch to the finish. The team huddled together and I walked a little closer to the trail. I guess I just felt like I needed to be right there to make sure Stan was going to be alright. After going through the ordeal with Karla going down, I was seriously worried about Stan and his health. Well, Stan came around the corner and you could tell by his face that he was done! I gave the thumbs up to the team and we all gathered around Stan and raced into the finish area. It was such a proud moment that we all got to share together. After everything we’d faced, we were standing at the finish! Never in my running career that spans over 31 years have I been so proud! This moment was just magic! Our captain collected the medals and passed them out, we did lots of pictures together and apart. Talked about all the craziness that we’d been through and shortly after said “I’d do it all again”!
The Ragnar Relay series is for real! As my fellow team-mate Kathleen stated “this was tougher than my marathon” and “this is a totally different beast”! How true those words are. It’s not just the miles that you cover, it’s the lack of sleep, the living in a van with 5 other people, trying to keep your body running on a schedule that can change at anytime and finding a way to overcome all of your adversities. Yes, the Ragnar was an amazing event and has once again changed my life forever! I’m grateful to have spent this time with a group of people who inspired me, cheered for me and in the end shared the love of running with me! We found our inner wild this past weekend and we also found true friendship!
Thank you to every one of my teammates for sharing this bucket list adventure with me! I want you all to know that you’re all very special people and that we shared a wonderful part of our lives together that no one can ever take back.
This is your Zombie saying…I’ll see you on the road!